The Corrections Department

Tomorrow's Business

From the Spokesman Review, a Washington paper, April 11, 1996.

“An April 5 story stated that Mary Fraijo did not return a reporter’s call seeking comment. Fraijo died last December.”

As corrections go, that’s near perfect. It is succinct. And it admits to a fairly fundamental error.

Writing corrections is its own art. My favourites are those that correct the record, while giving the clear impression to the reader that the person demanding the correction is a pompous loon.

On Monday, TB asked whatever happened to all those big Sunday stories about Rishi Sunak’s plan for a tax raid on the rich in his budget.

Since the budget is cancelled, all those stories were wrong. Politics desks get a lot more leeway than the City pages to write pure fantasy, was my point.

Most correspondents agreed, though one said:

“I think you’re right that parly (and sport) can make a load of stuff up/just believe what some source tells them on background, but I don’t think City hacks can criticise that much. Especially on Sunday papers. We may be better, but I’m not sure that is much to brag about.”

I think we are better, but I also think we should probably correct far more than we do, for three reasons.

1/ it’s the right thing to do 2/ it increases confidence in the vast majority of the content that isn’t corrected 3/ it focuses the mind of the hack, who typically hates having to correct and therefore will go the extra mile to try to make sure they are right.

Given the increased pressures on all hacks everywhere to produce more content faster, I think we are going to get more and more stuff just a bit wrong.

I am sure we can trust the PR industry not to needlessly exploit this weakness.

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